Thoughts on the golf swing

August 18, 2015- by Steven E. Greer, MD

I thought that Tiger Woods, in his prime, was playing the best golf that a human could possibly play. But these new golfers are even better.

This past weekend, Jason Day won the PGA with a score of 20-under par. No one has ever won a major tournament at 20-under. Coming in second, Jordan Spieth broke Tiger Woods’ season record of 53-under par for the four majors. He also became the Number One ranked golfer in the world at age 22.

Both Spieth and Day did not miss many putts all week at the PGA. They drove the ball straight, and well over 300-yards. Neither of them seemed to be on performance enhancing drugs.

One notable aspect of Spieth and Day’s games is that they both emphasize the pre-shot ritual of imagining the flight of the ball before they hit it. Jason Day actually goes into what seems to be a trance, with his eyelids half closed and twitching.

I have heard Jack Nicklaus talk about visualizing the shot, but I never quite understood what he meant. Now, I do.

Whenever I have played golf well, I have been thinking more about the shot than the actual swing. Conversely, when I am playing poorly or playing with people who make me self-conscious, I start to focus on the stance, the grip, and the swing, more than just swinging. I become paralyzed by my own analysis.

The human body cannot use the cerebrum to perform complex motor tasks. It has to be all derived from the cerebellum and spinal cord levels of the central nervous system. When one becomes mentally obsessed with the mechanics of the swing, then the whole thing breaks down. Tempo is lost. The swing speeds up, etc. An extreme case of this is seen when Charles Barkley tries to golf.

Imagining the flight of the golf ball before the shot helps the golfer turn off their cerebrum and let the cerebellum take over.

One reason that I gave up golf is that I developed the reverse-yips in putting. My long-distance putting was atrocious because I was thinking about it too much. My distance would be off by a mile. However, if I were to chip from the same distance, I would hit it much closer than if I putted, because I was not thinking about the chip. It was all natural. My muscles were being controlled by the cerebellum, not my cerebrum.

Jack Nicklaus was great because of his ability to imagine shots and go into a trance. I have stood next to him as he hit drives in tournaments, and he had no idea that people were standing there watching him. He tuned it all out.

In stark contrast, I was always very self-conscious of people watching me on the tee and it totally ruined my swing. This is why I play so much better when I am on my own. Of course, no one will believe me since there are no witnesses.

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